• Adventure
  • 16 June, 2022

Finding yourself in the hidden Valley of Nar Phu

Finding yourself in the hidden Valley of Nar Phu

The valley of Nar and Phu lies north of the popular and well-traversed Annapurna circuit. The Nar Phu valley is perfectly hidden and is nestled within high mountain passes and great Himalayan vistas that are only occasionally explored. 

All photos: Avant Shrestha

Open for exploration only since 2002, the Nar Phu trek offers trekkers a raw experience of Nepal’s most exotic, remote, and untouched region. A region that has been seamlessly preserved in time.

There’s something romantic and exhilarating about the idea of trekking and exploring different trails and regions Nepal has to offer. However, I’ve failed to see the fascination that most people feel. Partly because of my fear of being out in the wild; to be out there with the raw elements of nature. A fear of the unknown perhaps.

But after completing the Nar Phu valley trek, I would realize that my initial fears were unfounded. And traversing through a hidden gem amongst gigantic rock formations and snowcapped peaks, I would discover my own inner courage to explore the less traveled trails Nepal has to offer

Day 1: Kathmandu to Besisahar to Koto

There are various options one could take for the journey from Kathmandu to Besisahar. Be it hiring a comfortable luxury jeep, taking the local long-journey bus, or relying on tried-and-tested micro-vans. My travel buddies and I decided to take a micro-van. Normally the drive from Kathmandu to Besisahar takes about 4 to 5 hours and the cost per seat was about Rs. 750. As with everything, there is a tendency for dual pricing for locals and foreigners. So, international travelers might have to consider that in mind. 

The micro-vans are a quite decent way to travel the countryside, but things might tend to get a bit cramped. While the narrow bumpy roads and occasional instances of road rage by our driver were mundane occurrences for me, my travel buddies from the Czech Republic and Singapore were not so pleased. I often reminded them that these minor inconveniences were part of life and the journey of traveling on the Nepalese highway. Then they weren’t much thrilled with my nonchalant expression while reassuring them that everything was alright.

We stopped for lunch at Besisahar which literally translates to ‘the city at the base of a hill’. It is also the starting point for many trekking routes — none more famous than the starting point of the Annapurna circuit route. 

On the same day, we took a 6-hour jeep ride from Besisahar that would pass Koto un route to Manang. We would be dropped off at Koto, a small village on the Annapurna circuit route that sits at an altitude of 2600 meters. 

The drive was bumpy, to say the least. Most would find it uncomfortable. However, the views of the mountainside, the occasional waterfalls, the rivers, and the scenic gorges more than made up for the bumpy roads. 

The jeep was packed and for additional comfort, we ended up buying an additional seat on the jeep for extra leg room. The cost for renting a seat on the jeep for Nepali was Rs. 1500 and Rs. 3000 for international tourists.

After we reached Koto, we spent the night in a tea hut cum lodge, dining and planning out the next day’s trek towards Meta. 

Many would consider Koto to be the starting point of the Nar Phu Valley trek. We didn’t get to explore Koto much. But the place offered a small village vibe. We spent the night at ‘Mountain View Hotel and Resort’. While checking out, the cost of room and breakfast was about Rs. 2500. 

Day 2: Koto to Meta 

We headed out early for Meta the next day. As we traveled on foot, I began to notice my friends enjoying their journey. I had dreaded the initial phases of the trek up to Meta. I personally found the incline arduous. Five minutes into our trek, I was fatigued. My breathing became heavy and my calves started to burn. For someone who does not enjoy physical activity very much, I kept questioning why I even agreed to a trek in the first place. 

As we clocked in on the fifth hour of our trek, I began to get used to the pain and all the huffing and puffing. This is when my travel buddies began to struggle. And to be honest I selfishly found a bit of solace in watching them struggle. It was reassuring to know that I wasn’t the only one struggling; we were in this together. 

We were blessed with beautiful weather throughout the day. The landscape was serene and speckled with pine trees. The narrow and unmarked trail on the side of the cliff was daunting at first —  especially when the sound of the raging white water filled the air — but it gradually grew on us. 

We stopped at a small cottage for lunch and the second leg of our day is when the dreaded inclined started. The lush pine trees were soon replaced by gigantic rocks and mountain formations. Later I would learn that the entire eight-hour hike was no more than 20 km, but then it was not about the distance anymore but the sheer endurance to climb the ever-inclining trail. 

The last hour was perhaps the most challenging because of the steep climb. It was also towards the evening and the wind had started to pick up. It probably isn’t that bad but after walking for 7-8 hours, even the smallest struggles are amplified in your mind. 

We arrived at Meta at around 4 PM to a virtually empty village. We were the only ones at the guest house. Our curiosity about the abandoned settlements was never answered as there was no one to ask. Additionally, we were so tired and had zero motivation to ask anyone about the place and its history. 

Normal you tend to come across fellow travelers with whom you exchange, stories and/or drinks. Conversations seem to give you extra moral support, but here we were the only ones present and that’s when the anxiety started kicking in. 

Day 3: Meta to Phu 

We had about 7 to 8 hours of trekking to do this day, so we headed out early at 7 AM for  Phu. 

As we ascended the landscape dramatically changed. If I had a way to describe the vast landscape, images of the wild west in the movies often came to my mind. This place didn’t feel like Nepal. There was no civilization, just the plain grey hue of the rock formations and the blue skies. This felt like an uncharted destination. This is where the explanation of Nar Phu starts. Nar Phu is often known as ‘the lost valley ‘because not much was known about the valley in comparison to other destinations. 

For the first 3 hours, we didn’t even feel tired. We were just captivated by the vast open landscape and the sheer beauty of nature. The further we trekked towards Nar Phu valley through Meta, the more often we’d come across abandoned settlements. The broken remembrance of a civilization long forgotten by people. 

Around mid-day, we reached Chyakhu, a resting and a lunch point. Travelers have the option to even camp here, but we decided to push on and 1 hour away from Chyaku, we reach a settlement. Among reoccurring sites of ruins and abandoned buildings, there were a few newer buildings, where we stopped for lunch. We were lucky enough to meet a few locals with who we had brief conversations over steaming bowls of noodle soup.  

After a few more hours of trekking and the wide scenic terrain was replaced by barren ridges and rock walls. As we climbed higher, things started to become more claustrophobic. The roads were narrow and were carved into the mountains. The landscape became rougher and drier. 

This part of the day —  although was interesting for the avid trekkers I was with — I personally found it a bit frustrating, partially because of my own inexperience and naivety. I kept asking my fellow trekkers ‘are we there yet?’ At some point, they stopped answering.

As we got closer to Phu, there was a steep descent from the mountains that lead to a trail along the river path and then again a steep incline to Phu Gate. After reaching Phu Gate, it’s easy to get a sense of accomplishment; however, with a wide smile on his face, our guide told us that there was yet another 30 to 45 minutes trek uphill. 30 to 45 minutes is more like an hour-and-half hour for a novice like me. At this point, he was just making fun of me. No hard feelings. 

From the Phu gate, you kind of get a sense of the entire Phu village nestled among the high cliffs. The name that this land gets, the moniker of the ‘hidden gem’ is excellently accentuated here. 

We reach Phu at 4 PM and spent the night there. 

Day 4: Acclimatize at Phu 

Phu sat at an altitude of 4080 meters, and it was wise for us to spend the day in Phu to acclimatize to the altitude. 

There are various side journeys one can take from Phu Village. As our guide explained we may explore Himlung Himal Base Camp, Tashi Khaling Gumba, and various other sacred sites on the Damodar Kunda trail. 

We decided to go explore the Himlung Himal Base Camp, which according to our guide was not that far. What I did not know was that his definition of ‘not far’ means a 6-hour round trip on foot.  For a city sleeker this was torturous; rewarding, ‘yes’, but torturous. 

Day 5: Phu to Nar Phedi

On our next leg of the journey from Phu to Nar Phedi, we came down the same route to Meta to take another route to Nar Phedi. This particular leg of the journey was comparatively easier as we were descending the entire time. 

On the way to Nar Phedi, we encountered lots of Himalayan goats and slowly started to get a sense of civilization. It took us a total of 6 hours to reach our destination for the day. 

We spent the night at Nar Phedi Monastery on the top of the hill and got an opportunity to experience Tibetan culture first-hand. We dined with the students of the monastery, where they had to follow a strict schedule. After days of not being able to communicate with other humans other than our own group, chatting and sharing stories with the students was definitely refreshing. 

Day 6: Nar Phedi to Nar Village

After fueling up for the day and saying our goodbyes to the residents of the monastery, we started our ascend towards Nar Village. It was a short 3-hour trek, which felt like much more. The roads were challenging and curved continually, however at this point, our bodies were getting used to the terrain and the burn in our legs.  

We reached around noon and got the opportunity to rest up for the final stretch of our journey the next day. 

Day 7: Trek from Nar to Humle through Ngawal and Kang La Pass 

The trek from Nar to Ngawal through Kang La Pass, which sat at an altitude of 5,240 meters, was the most challenging day of the entire trek. 

Kang La Pass was one of the most majestic areas in the entire area. You are literally passing through the mountains. For us, the rain and snow from the previous night made it more challenging. 

We’ve all seen the breathtaking sights from a far distance, the images and videos of the snowcapped mountains as the morning sun hits the tip. But to be there, knees deep in snow as the ray of the morning sun hit the tip of the freshly snow-capped mountains was surreal. Maybe the less said about such a sight is better. Something like this is not meant to be explained, it’s to be experienced and lived. 

The entire day took us 12 hours. Our guide was amazing while navigating us through the snow. Owing to the snow from the night before, we were unable to take the normal route. Too inept to trailblaze through the snow, we took another route which was shorter but steeper. Once again I learn that short doesn’t mean short in the wilderness. It might have cut down the distance, but our new route also took twice the effort. 

As we got higher the air got thinner as well. You need to pace yourself through the trail, if it’s not the altitude that will hit you, the sun definitely will. 

Other than being a difficult trek uphill, the Kha lang pass was a defiantly interesting area. On the highest part of the pass at 5320 meters, you can see the panoramic view of the entire mountain range — Annapurna 3 and 4 to be precise. That was probably the highlight of the entire trek. 

We could even make out Nagwal from the highest point of the pass. Our destination was clearly visible and thought it was an easy journey to the area. However, the landscape is never consistently kind. The 5-hour rocky downhill that followed obliterated our knees. 

We reached Nagwal, and since we could not find a vehicle to take us back to the city we hiked an hour more to Humle where the rocky white sights were finally replaced by lush greenery. We spent a night at Humle and the next day was driven back to Besisahar. 

Back to normality  

Nar Phu Valley is a restricted area and trekkers, especially foreign trekkers can only enter through a permit that comes to cost around $75. Regardless of the number of trekkers in the group, a lone tourist is never allowed; there have to be at least 2 international tourists for security and logistic purposes. The permit must be issued through an accredited trekking agency that will also be arranging the obligatory guide.  

But despite all of its obstacles, the Nar Phu valley trek gives you a first-hand experience of a region that is still to a lesser extent untouched. The raw beauty of the area offers trekkers an escape and a sense of living in the moment. 

In a lot of ways, it gave my mind a period of clarity. There is a certain je ne sais quoi that comes with reaching and exploring uncharted lands. My friend from the Czech Republic perfectly outlined the entire journey saying, “While looking for the lost valley, we got to find a little bit of ourselves that was never there.”

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